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Christmas Eve December 24, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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CHRISTMAS EVE  Christmas I
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7; Ps. 97; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, WA
Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
Christmas trees dressed
in colored lights and shiny baubles,
          piles of presents underneath,
roast beef and turkey and ham,
          eggnog and cocoa and cookies,
                   candy canes, chocolates,
                   parties, holiday excursions –
 
All over the place,
for weeks it seems,
people have already been celebrating
          America’s Christmas –
 
 a celebration I fear is sliding into a triune festival
called HallowThanksMas . . .
perhaps it is already there.
 
But we’ve come here tonight
through Tacoma’s chill streets
after Advent’s time of waiting
to a manger where an infant sleeps,
for here lies the promise
          at the heart of Christmas.
 
In the eyes of the world,
what we do here may seem
foolish,
of little importance,
just more of the sentimentality
          of a sentimental season.
         
But let’s not be fooled . . .
there’s something firm and solemn
in the promise
          at the heart of Christmas . .
 
a firm and solemn
          and fierce joy
that can stand against
everything hard and serious
that will be revealed once more
when the world is stripped of
          its Christmas décor.
 
We have come here,
for in the community gathered,
and the Word proclaimed,
in the songs and in the prayers,
in the Bread and Wine shared,
          we discover again
          the promise of that joy.
 
What meaning,
the world may ask,
does the ancient story
we proclaim here tonight . . .
 
Luke’s intriguing tale
of Mary and Joseph,
shepherds and angels,
and the baby in a manger
          in first century Palestine . . .
 
what meaning could this story
hold for our 21st century
hard and serious American lives?

Surely this is all foolishness.
 
Yes, we might answer,
it is foolishness,
but
foolishness of an entirely different order,
 
the foolishness of God’s Holy Wisdom,
God’s wildly improbable
          plan of salvation,
God’s venturing into God’s own creation
          in the flesh . . .
 
God, in that baby in a manger,
          born into the world of God’s own making,
knocking at the door of the human condition.
 
God in Jesus
          present with us now.
 
“The grace of God has appeared,”
we might respond with Saint Paul,
“bringing salvation to all . . .”
 
Incarnation.
 
In the old English carol
that was part of tonight’s prelude,
Christ sings of his Incarnation this way:
 
"Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance;
Thus was I knit to man's nature,
To call my true love to my dance.
 
"In a manger laid and wrapp'd I was,
          So very poor,
this was my chance,
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance.
          "Sing O my love,
          O my love, my love, my love;
          This have I done for my true love." 1                    
And who is this true love,
for whom Christ
has done all this?
 
Why -- it is you
 
          and me.
 
This is Incarnation’s meaning.
Not just in first century Palestine,
but in all times and places.
 
Christ comes to you and me
for love of us,
invitation in hand –
 
to join him in the Dance of Life.
 
In another carol,
Christ leads us deeper
into the mystery of this dance:                                      
 
"I danced on the Sabbath                                     [Verses 1 and 2 omitted]
And I cured the lame
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high
And they left me there on a cross to die.
“I danced on a Friday
And the sky turned black.
It's hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance
And I still go on.
 
"Dance then wherever you may be              
          I am the Lord of the dance, said he,
          And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
          And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.” 2
 
 
The life Christ takes upon himself
in the Incarnation –
our own life –
 
is a dance of joy
and a dance of sorrow,
a dance of delight,
and a dance of suffering,
 
the dance of the crêche
and the dance of the cross,
the dance of the fullness
          of incarnate living.
 
For Incarnation,
God with us,
means God in Christ
          for love of us
becomes one of us
enters our poverty,
our confusion,
our struggle,
our grief –
 
and calls us to dance ourselves
and the world
into life.
 
 
Some 25 years ago,
when I lived in New York City,
I knew a recovering alcoholic
named Terrell.
 
His was a story
of the disease of alcoholism
and a slow dance with death.
 
 
He had drunk away
everyone and everything        
          that meant anything to him
until finally
he was adrift in the streets,
ragged, dirty, lost, alone,
          a drink away from total destruction.
 
But somehow,
he would tell you,
God managed to enter
into his desolation.
 
Somehow he found himself in rehab
and
began the long journey back
to wellness.
 
About a year into his sobriety,
shortly before Christmas,
Terrell was waiting at a bus stop.
 
Several other people were waiting, too,
including a woman and her children,
a toddler, and a baby in a stroller.
 
As the bus arrived,
the woman picked up her baby,
folded the stroller,
grabbed her toddler's hand,
 
then stared helplessly
at that first high step
into the bus.
 
She had no hands left
to pull herself up.
 
Turning to Terrell,
she said,
"Would you hold my baby?"
 
 
Terrell wept as he told of it:
former bum, drunk, street guy,
entrusted with a newborn,
          fresh-cheeked baby.
 
"Would you hold my baby?"
 
Perhaps this is God's question to us at Christmas.
 
Would you hold
the Christ born at Bethlehem?
Would you hold
the Christ who already dwells
in you?
 
Would you hold
the Christ who dwells
in your neighbor,
your friend,
your lover,
the stranger?
 
The Incarnation
is
God's invitation to us
to hold one another
as if
we were holding
Christ.
 
To become one great dancing circle
of God's all-embracing love
for everyone.
 
And,
at the center of that circle,
to hold
with tenderness
the poorest,
most vulnerable
of us all.
 
Would you hold my baby?
Every day
the media bring us
a profusion of
hard and serious images
from around the world,
from our own cities and neighborhoods,
 
children
whose own incarnation
whose own life in the flesh
is one of terrible suffering –
 
young lives
shattered by war,
crushed by poverty,
uprooted by homelessness,
cast aside by racism,
cut short by disease, starvation, abuse, gun violence.
 
Would you hold my baby?
 
Might each of us,
in the year to come,
be God’s grace
in the life of just one such child?
 
Might each of us,
in the year to come,
work for change
in just one place
where children suffer?
 
Might each of us,
in the year to come,
challenge
just one policy or practice
of government or corporation
which is harmful to children?
 
“The grace of God has appeared,
bringing salvation to all,
training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions,
and in the present age to live lives
that are self-controlled, upright and godly . . .”
 
not impulsive, self-serving, isolated, insulated, lives . . .
but disciplined, self-offering, other-embracing lives . . .
guided
not by what is trending,
but by what is eternal . . .
 
the foolishness of God’s Holy Wisdom.
Tonight,
we have encountered,
in the child in the manger,
the Christmas promise of hope newborn.
 
Hope that becomes incarnate,
en-fleshed
in us.
 
May our journey to the manger
and home again
awaken the love and the hope
          slumbering in our hearts,
make us simple and humble people,
filled with the firm and solemn and fierce joy of Christ.
 
Then we will
not be afraid to be foolish
and to risk foolish things –
 
for we dance through life
with Christ
who was foolish for us first.
 
"In a manger laid and wrapp'd I was,
So very poor,
This was my chance,
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance."
 
1. Traditional English Carol
2. English poet Sidney Carter, in Stoddard, ed. Prayers, Praises and Thanksgivings